Fact Sheet - Fishing Soft Plastics Offshore
Offshore fishing was once the home of paternoster rigs, big snapper sinkers and overhead reels, in recent years though quality spin combos, loaded with braided line, fluorocarbon leaders and rigged with soft plastic lures have been out fishing bait on many occasions.
Due to their soft construction these lures have a seductive action, can be molded into a wide range of shapes and sizes, they are available in a wide variety of colours, are relatively inexpensive and they’re chewy so fish will often hit them more than once. The most popular soft plastics for offshore fishing would include 5” and 7” Berkley Gulp Jerkshads, which are 100% biodegradeable, made from 100% natural ingredients and release 400 times more scent than standard plastic baits. Other popular soft plastics would include large Squidgy Flick Baits and the Atomic 4” Prong.
When rigging the soft plastic run the hook from the head end through the centre of the plastic and on deeper bodied plastics a good idea is to run it on an angle slightly toward the top section of the plastic. Anglers new to soft plastics fishing often don’t leave enough hook exposed to ensure a hookup and will often experience hits and runs without hookups, so running the hook toward the top section of the plastic ensures that there is a reasonable amount of hook and bend exposed.
Some fish taken on plastics from a recent TT Lures trip: Levi with a pearl perch, Dec’s big tea leaf trevally and Jason with a cracker cobia, all taken on plastics.
Spending a bit more on your gear will get you quality rods that give you the power and control to turn fish away from reefy structure, reels with smooth drags that can handle the fight of larger reef and pelagic species and quality braid that provides you with increased feel and better hook setting power due to its low stretch qualities.
Shallow reef fishing with plastics can be done with 6’ – 7’6”, 5 – 10kg spin rods and 2500 – 4000 size reels loaded with 15 - 20lb braid, 20 – 40lb leader and 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2oz jigheads with a 3/0 – 5/0 heavy wire hook. However if you are moving out beyond the 30m mark and are likely to encounter some stronger currents and big saltwater bruisers it would be worth stepping up to 15, or even 24kg spin or jigging rods, 6000 – 20000 size reels loaded with 30 – 50lb braid, even 80lb can be too light for wrecks and other serious structure, 60 – 80lb leaders and a minimum 1oz head with 7/0 – 10/0 hook.
The lighter the jighead you can get away with the better as it creates a more natural sinking action and sink rate for the plastic, allowing fish to rise from the structure to engulf the lure. A 1oz head should get you to the bottom in 30m of water with a bit of run, but move into 50m, 80m or even over 100m and you will soon find yourself stepping up to 2oz, 4oz and even 8oz jigheads to get the lure down there.
When allowing the soft plastic to sink to the bottom you can ‘feel it to the bottom’ by running the line between your fingertips as it feeds from the reel. This allows you to feel a bite on the line, or the speed of the line increase when a fish hits it on the drop. If you feel the line speed up, or a fish hit the lure, flip the bail arm over, set the hook and hang on.
If at anchor cast up current so that the lure is sinking back toward the bottom as it passes you and if drifting cast ahead of the drift, again to give the lure the best opportunity to reach the bottom before the current or drift begins to lift it up again.
Once you feel the lure bump the bottom, or the line slacken flick the bail arm and twitch the lure by lifting the rod tip in a lift, pause and then continue with the lift style of jig. You don’t need to use big sweeping lifts or aggressive movements to attract the attention of the fish. As you drop the rod tip back toward the water don’t let the line go slack, fish will often smash the lure as it drops back toward the bottom and by feeling the tap or strike you are able to set the hooks on the fish.
After you have repeated this lift and drop a few times you will need to open the bail arm and feed line from the reel to allow the soft plastic find the bottom again. After a few more lifts and drops it is time to retrieve the lure and start again. If you simply wind the lure in you are wasting the water column between the boat and the bottom, this is where a high speed retrieve comes in.
When you have finished working the bottom, retrieve the lure rapidly toward the boat. This high speed retrieve will trigger a natural predatory instinct in many species such as tuna, mackerel, trevally and kingfish, who can’t resist a fleeing baitfish. This can change a quiet day reef fishing into absolute mayhem when you find there are other species in the area that prefer the high speed retrieve.
If you do a bit of offshore fishing give the soft plastics a go. We have had sessions where plastics out fish both dead and live baits and also where plastics have managed to switch on bigger fish than bait.